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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

New Solar Developments

New Solar Developments

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Tuesday, March 20, 2018/Categories: sustainability, art and design, environment, climate change

                           Flexible and Printable Solar Materials for Electricity Generation (credit: CSIRO)

From research advances to direct applications solar energy technology continues gaining speed. Three new developments are especially noteworthy:

1. Elon Musk and Tesla met their goal of building a solar power station for South Australia and won a $100 million wager they had made, the plant would be completed and operating within 100 days. If not, the power plant would be given free to the South Australians. Not resting on this success, Tesla has now developed a plan to construct a "virtual" solar power plant by interconnecting 50,000 homes in the same Australian state. Over the next four years, the Company working with the South Australian government will install solar panels on 50,000 homes to generate power and feed it into a grid-scale, industrial battery facility for the State. Australia is the test case. If successful, many people believe this renewable energy example could set off a chain-reaction in commercial and residential solar developments that will have impacts for the entire world. It isn't a good idea to bet against Elon Musk and his bold approaches to use advanced energy technologies for practical purposes.


                Commercial Scale Solar Battery Power Plant (credit: Tesla Solar)

2. In super-sunny Australia, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Organization (CSIRO) is developing new materials and production methods that will lead to the creation of thin, flexible, and semi-transparent solar cells that use ‘solar inks’. These printable inks are deposited onto solar-sensative films by applying reverse gravure coating, slot-die coating, and screen printing techniques. The Agency sees applications from individual homes to entire cityscapes. CSIRO produced a short video to explain their new solar-printing process.

3. Efficiency is the key to the future of all solar power generation. Whether it is increasing the storage capacity of new batteries; reducing the loss of electrical transmission across the power grid; or changing the capabilities of solar cells themselves, efficiency matters. Currently, photovoltaic panels (PV systems) generate electricity by relying on amorphous silicon cells to capture solar photons. Commercially available panels have a conversion efficiency of ~17-19% with laboratory cells reaching somewhat higher levels. The growth in efficiency of silicon PV cells has taken 60 years to reach these current levels. One new manufacturer now claims to have panels with the ability to convert 21% of the solar energy that hits them into electricity but new photo-sensative materials will be needed to push conversion efficiencies further.


       Energy Conversion Efficiencies by Material, 1975-2020 (credit: National Renewable Energy Laboratory)

 Silicon Photovoltaic Power System (credit:Wikipedia)     Flexible Perovskite Solar Plastics (credit: Solar Trends)

One of the most promising of the new materials is the abundant mineral Perovskite, a light-sensitive crystal with the potential to radically change the generation of solar power. It converts solar energy from a different portion of the sun's light spectrum than current silicon-based cells so the potential exists to "layer" silicon and perovskite together for even higher conversion rates. If perovskite research continues to perform well, 35% or higher conversion levels may be possible for commercial solar cell production. Flexible plastic solar films could be used to cover windows or buildings converting architecture into renewable energy generating facilities that could power entire cities.

Exciting is the only word that can be used to describe these remarkable new solar developments. Their practical and commercial applications are limited only by the imagination.



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